The Mets Begin to Clean the 40-Man Roster

The Mets began the process of purging players from their 40-man roster last week. At  the moment, including players on the 60-man disabled list, the Mets have 44 players on the 40-man roster. Those 60-man DL guys will start counting against the 40-man roster after the World Series. The deadline to add prospects to the 40-man roster to protect prospects is November 20.

Guys are either protected from the Rule Five draft three or four times. Players who are  younger than 19 years old on June 5th before signing their first contract are protected four times while those who are 19 or older are protected three times. So, any college draftees from the 2010 draft are Rule 5 eligible for the first time this year.

 

The Mets 40-Man Roster Position Breakdown
23 pitchers
3 catchers
10 infielders
8 outfielders
44 Total

Last week, the Mets outrighted RHP Greg Burke and LHP Sean Henn; neither were claimed. Meanwhile, the Dodgers claimed Mike Baxter while the Angels grabbed LHP Robert Carson.
The hard-throwing Carson has not figured out how to retire Major League hitters.In 33 inning in the last two years, he’s run a 13/11 K/BB ratio and allowed 11 homeruns on his way to a 6.82 ERA. His fastball is 93-95 and his slider is mostly 85 ish (82-88 per Brooksbaseball), but he has been less than the sum of his parts thanks to command troubles.

In 155 PA in 2013 in his age 27 season, Baxter hit .189/.303/.250 with zero homeruns. Sure, he’ll always have “The Catch” in Johan Santana’s no-hitter in 2012, but it’s looking more and more costly. He disclocated his shoulder on the play, and according to Kristie Ackert in the NY Daily News, “some in the organization feel that Baxter never recovered his power after that injury.” There’s little question that his isolated slugging percentage of .061 was his worst in his three seasons as a Mets.

 

There are seven more pitchers on the 40-man who are eligible to be free agents:
David Aardsma, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Feliciano, Frank Francisco, Aaron Harang, LaTroy Hawkins, Daisuke Matsuzaka

When these seven walk, the Mets’ 40-man roster will slim down to 37. That’s a start.

 

Prospect Additions
The Mets have relatively few must-add players this winter. The only three givens to me are:
1. Jacob deGrom - RHP who throws a low-mid 90s power sinker and ended the year in AAA. Adopted a curveball as his primary breaking ball in 2013. Still has a chance to start, but likelier a reliever in the end.
2. Jeff Walters - Fastball/Slider RHP who had a strong year out of the Binghamton bullpen. Will start 2014 in AAA Las Vegas and should make his MLB debut sometime in the warm part of summer.
3. Steven Matz - LHP stayed healthy for the first time in 2013 and made major strides. There’s no way the Mets let a lefty who can touch 96 get away.

Adding those three players would take the Mets back up to 40 players. So, if the Mets want to add any other players via the Rule 5 draft or free agency or a trade, they will have to drop more guys.

Adam Rubin suggested last week that in addition to the four players who were already waived, Scott Atchison, Zach Lutz, Andrew Brown and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are most at risk. I would add Jordany Valdespin and Hansel Robles to the list of guys who should be worried about their 40-man roster spots.

 

Prospects On the Bubble Outside Looking In
Luis Cessa – Really nice season for Savannah in a-ball, but is his combination of low 90s fastball, slider and changeup special enough for a team to carry out of a-ball? Highly doubt it.
Cory Vaughn – Auditioning for a roster spot in the AFL. I believe he’s not an everyday big leaguer. Perhaps he’s a platoon player/bench bat.  We discussed that at more length a few weeks ago.
Bret Mitchell - Missed 2012 after hip labrum surgery but had a nice 2013 out of the Savannah/St. Lucie bullpen throwing 90-94 sitting 92-93. Still, 22 walks in 30.2 innings in the FSL signal that he’s not ready for a MLB 40-man roster.
Aderlin Rodriguez – left unprotected a year ago, Rodriguez hit .260/.295/.427 in 62 games for St. Lucie before hand/wrist injuries ended his regular season. He’s unlikely to be protected or drafted.

 

Worrying about the 40-man roster for a team that finished 2013 at 74-88 seems almost to miss the point. If the Mets are going to improve the squad for next year, they will need to replace the players they have with ones who are better. (That’s top-grade #analysis, right there.)

In that case, change is good. So, do the Mets have the ability to spend in the free agent market? Can they be creative in the trade market?

Is Cesar Puello a “Prospect?”

Puello ST Stance (BeGreen90)The short answer to the question posed by the title is: “yes, I believe Cesar Puello is a prospect.”

Monday, in his chat on the Eastern League Top 20 Prospects List, which did not include Puello, Josh Norris answered a question on the 22-year-old outfielder in his first exchange:

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, Josh. What did evaluators have to say about Cesar Puello’s season, and did he end up close making your list?
Josh Norris: He didn’t end up close to making the list, and quite frankly, a great deal of it had to do with the Biogenesis scandal. It also didn’t help that people within the Mets organization have told me beforehand that they don’t really consider him a prospect.

According to Josh, conversation he is referring to, with someone within the Mets organization, occurred during the season, perhaps June.

Sure, Puello was not good in 2011 or 2012 in the Florida State League, but the statement seems like a pretty big overreaction.

Lets start with the basics. Puello, who turned 22 on April 1, had his best professional season this year, but was limited to 91 games because he was suspended for the final month+ thanks to his connection with the Biogenesis mess. Mets people I have talked to believe strongly that Puello was clean in 2013.

Puello had always looked the part. He’s big, strong, runs well, throws well and plays hard – always willing to take a pitch and get his uniform dirty. However, he had a long way to go mechanically and tweak after tweak have finally put him in a place where he can make his physical prowess work.

The tables below show Puello’s four seasons in full-season ball. After two years in the Florida State League in which he was injured and swung at everything, he seemed to figure things out this year. His walk rate rose to 7.4% and his homerun rate spiked driving his isolated slugging percentage to a career-best. His extra-base hit rate reached an all-time high. His BABIP of .391 was also his career-best and one he has no chance of sustaining in the big leagues (if he gets there). Still, there’s plenty to work with.

 

ABH2B3BHRBBSOTPAAVGOBPSLG
10 SAL40411822113273469.292.375.359
11 FSL4411142151018103487.259.314.397
12 FSL227591744758252.260.328.423
12 AFL8521110829103.247.379.282
13 EL331108212162882377.326.403.547

 

 

 

XBH%BB%SO%HR%BABIPISO
10 SAL5.16.815.60.21.353.067
11 FSL7.43.721.12.05.312.138
12 FSL9.92.823.01.59.333.163
12 AFL1.97.828.20.00.375.035
13 EL10.37.421.84.24.391.221

Although his suspension kept him from the number of plate appearances to qualify for the Eastern League leaderboards, if we relax our requirements to 300 plate appearances, he finished second in the circuit in wRC+ and wOBA (two advanced offensive metrics) to 26-year-old teammate Allan Dykstra. Puello’s 163 wRC+, where 100 is league average, is outstanding.

 

Top 22-Year-Old
Lets take a look at how 22-year-olds who have produced similarly in recent years have fared. Whoops, there are none. More on that in a minute.

The following list is the top hitter in the Eastern League in each season at age 22 or lower. Note, all the players in the list below I’ll be looking at the top wRC+ among players in the Eastern League with 300 or more plate appearances in a year (basically half a season).

 

Year  - Player                        - AA wRC+ –      Update
2012 – Aaron Hicks               -        133     –     Replacement-level big leaguer for the Twins in ’13
2011 – Travis D’Arnaud       -        150    -      Replacement-level big leaguer for the Mets (31 games).
2010 – Brandon Laird          -        136    -      Replacement-level Astro in ’13
2009 – Josh Thole                  -        129    -     Replacement-level Blue Jay in ’13
2008 – Nick Evans                 –        145   –      Plugging away in AA for the DBacks in ’13
2007 – Asdrubal Cabrera    –        129   –      Viable MLB middle infielder who had his worst year in the big in ’13.
2006 – Adam Lind                 -        152   –      He can still hit, but defense hurts his MLB value.

Other notable 22-year-olds from 2011 included young big leaguers like Starling Marte (wRC+ – 138) and Will Middlebrooks (136).

Just being the best 22-year-old in the Eastern League is certainly no guarantee of big league stardom or even big league success although every one of the best 22-year-olds in the EL in a given year played in the big leagues.

But there’s something else important going on here. Limiting the sample to all players who had 300 PA in the Eastern League in a season, Puello just had the best season by a 22-year-old, as measured by wRC+ since Fangraphs began keeping track in 2006.

Adam Lind has been a bit better than league average as a hitter over his career. Considering that his wRC+ is closest to Puello’s on the above list, I think that should carry a little weight. Unlike Lind, I expect Puello’s defense to be a positive addition to his overall value rather than a major drag.

This is not just about numbers. Puello has the underlying tools – power, bat-speed, strength, hand-eye coordination to be a big leaguer.

I expect Puello to be a solid, everyday outfielder with a peak that does make him an above average contributor for a time. Now, he had his career-best marks in plate discipline and power in 2013. Any further improvement in both crucial categories and his projection would improve in parallel fashion.

He Hit What?

David Ortiz parked a 86 spliter from Joaquin Benoit for a series changing grandslam last night.

It did not look like a terrible pitch. Lets examine in more detail.

Here’s a screenshot an instant before contact.

 

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 9.44.22 AM

 

The Fox angle is screwy – it’s way to the right of dead center, so that pitch is actually close to the outside corner.
Tim McCarver called the pitch a fastball in real time, but according to Brooks Baseball, it was a split fingered fastball. It was supposed to dive; it didn’t. Still, Brooks Baseball classifies the pitch as being the lower, outside third of the zone to Ortiz.

At BrooksBaseball, they classify splitters with changeups and screwballs as “off-speed pitches” in a separate category from breaking balls (sliders and curves).

The following heat map shows where pitchers threw Ortiz off-speed pitches for the 2013 season. Breaking news: they threw Ortiz soft stuff low and away. (Click on all of the heat maps to embiggen and all are taken from the catcher’s perspective.)

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 9.53.47 AM

 

 

And the reason? It worked often. This is Ortiz’s whiff percentage against such offerings in 2013. He will chase low and away.

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.00.00 AM

 

And the bad news for the Tigers. When Ortiz made contact against pitches low and away, he could do damage with them.  Ortiz slugged over .700 when he made contact with an off-speed pitch in the far low and outside third of the strike zone in 2013.

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.01.33 AM

 

Now, there are few enough hits in those tables that Sunday night’s grand slam skews how dangerous Ortiz is on such pitches low and away.

Here’s his career.

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.43.58 AM

Ortiz handles the soft stuff middle-down very well, and still slugs over .500 on balls in contact on off-speed pitcher in the lower outer third.

Mets
For comparison, and for a Mets angle, look at how poorly their two first baseman fared on such pitches in their careers.

Lucas Duda
Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.05.22 AM

Duda can hit offspeed pitches that are centered. However, as soon as a pitcher moves to the outer third or off the corner, Duda is toast.

 

Ike Davis
Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.08.45 AM

Davis’ profile looks like Duda. He can handle a breaking ball that misses down over the middle of the plate. And as pitchers move away from him, the boxes get bluer and bluer.

 

Other Left-Handed Sluggers

Lets take a look at some of the leading left-handed power threats in baseball from the last five years.

Prince Fielder
The Royal One handles off-speed misses that end middle-down and away-middle and absolutely punishes them, but he slugs under .300 on contact on balls that are both in the bottom third and outer third.

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.26.46 AM

Joey Votto
Votto is a plate coverage monster and like Prince abuses off-speed stuff middle-down, away-middle and middle-middle. Even he does not have the coverage to the lower outside corner as Ortiz does, slugging .344 in the box low and away in the strike zone.

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.28.49 AM

 

Joe Mauer
Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 10.38.51 AMJoe Mauer, crushes off-speed pitches up.  (Note: this sentence has been edited, as I originally referred to his “hard decline,” but really, his last two years have been excellent.)  And no, he’s not Ortiz on the stuff low and and way.

 

Conclusion
Benoit did not throw a good splitter to Ortiz. It was flat. As Jeff Sullivan explains at Fangraphs this morning, the pitch had five fewer inches of vertical break than Benoit’s other splitters in the inning.

However, among left-handed power threats, Ortiz is unusually strong on pitches low and away. He’s better than Votto, Mauer, or Fielder on contact low and away. So, he was the right batter, on the right pitch at the right time.

As any Red Sox fan would say, “duh.”

Oh, Wow

We’re going to start off today with some hardcore analysis: oh, wow baseball.

 

First this.

And then this.

If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, you fall into one of three categories: 1. you don’t like baseball, 2. you are dead, 3. you’re goosebump making machinery is broken.

Uribe, Lobaton, Prospect Status and What a Night of Baseball

First, Monday, October 7, 2013 was a fantastic day of playoff baseball.
Second, and relatedly, we spend a lot of time on here discussing whether young players can grow up to be big leaguers and when they get there, what kind of players they might become. Both things certainly matter for teams and fans.

And then in the 8 o’clock hour eastern a replacement level player – Jose Lobaton – put one over the right-center field wall to force a game four in Tampa. Lobaton homering off Koji Uehara, who had not allowed a home run in over three months is as improbable as it gets. Lobaton, entering the playoffs owned a career MLB batting line of .228/.311/.343 in 564 PA, a little over half of which (311) came in 2013. He had a career WAR of 0.9, as his 2013 mark of 1.4 lifted him out of negative territory for the first time. The Padres waived him in 2009.

Lobaton was never a Top 100 prospect in baseball, nor did he ever make Baseball America’s Top 20 list for either of his two organizations (Padres or Rays) or for any league in which he played. BA did call him the Padres best defensive catching prospect in 2007 and 2008.

Uribe is a different kind of surprise in that he’s been a big leaguer for the last 13 years and has put together on of his best seasons in 2013 at age 33/34 (he turned 34 in July) when most players are declining. Uribe’s 4.1 bWAR this season exceeds his previous career best of 4.0 set nine years ago in 2004 when he was worth 4.0 bWAR with the White Sox. (A side note: a 4.1 bWAR and a 4.0 bWAR is essentially identical as any measurement error swamps the one tenth of one win – one run – difference.) Just once in the intervening period has he been worth three wins. He’s coming off a 2011-2012 period with the Dodgers where he “hit” .199/.262/.289 for an OPS+ of 54 (where 100 is league average) in his age 31/32/33. He’s made a cool $40.3 million dollars for his 18.3 WAR since 2001.

Uribe was a well-regarded prospect in the years preceding his big league debut. BA had him ranked as the Rockies #6 prospect before 2009, and as the team’s #2 prospect before 2001 when he was the #94 prospect in baseball.

BA even nailed that Uribe’s power mattered (from their pre-2001 writeup):

He even has shown power in two years at full-season Class A, hitting a total of 22 home runs. …Uribe has basestealing speed and showed a better feel for the art last year, getting caught just five times. He has plus power potential for a middle infielder.

He followed that up by earning the #5 prospect award in the PCL, and the circuit’s best infield arm in 2001. That season, he hit a healthy .310/.340/.530 in 74 games in the hitters’ paradise of Colorado Springs and then .300/.325/.524 for a 98 (!!) OPS+ in 72 games for the Rockies in the days when Coors Field was still Coors Field.

Stars, Baby, Stars
While Lobaton and Uribe are surprises, the pedigree of some of their contributing teammates is not.

On the Rays, Evan Longoria, who was the third overall pick in the 2006 draft launched a three-run homer. Later that same draft, the Rays went overslot ($400,000) to sign Alex Cobb, who started the game. He landed between #14 and #21 on BA’s Rays ranking before every season from 2008 through 2011. He was a perennial in the back half of his league’s Top 20 lists.

The Dodgers too relied on elite amateur talent. Clayton Kershaw, who allowed just two unearned runs in his six innings on three days rest, is not just the best pitcher in the National League. He was also a first round pick, seventh overall, four spots behind Longoria in 2006, who signed for $2.3 million. Per BA, he was his League’s top prospect every year from ’06-08 and one of the Dodgers top two prospects the whole time.

Carl Crawford, who homered twice was an elite prospect for the Rays, earning top rankings before his $142 million from the Red Sox. Way back when, he slipped out of the first round in the draft to the Rays at #52 overall, who paid him $1.245 million to skip a football scholarship to Nebraska. The pre-draft writeup is fun:

OF Carl Crawford is one of the two or three best athletes in the draft. He has a rare package of speed and strength and has committed to Nebraska as an option quarterback. In tryouts for scouts, he hit a number of mammoth home runs. ….

Hanley Ramirez, who had a quiet night Monday going 1-for-3 with a walk, was one of baseball’s top prospects, placing either #1 or #2 in the Red Sox and Marlins’ systems for four straight years from 2003-2006 sanwiched around the trade to Florida with Anibal Sanchez and two other prospects for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota.

 

What’s the Point?
Yes, Uribe and Loboton were unlikely heroes. “Don’t forget the work of the stars” does not feel like an egalitarian position. And it’s not. But do not forget that the stars’ performance helped create the opportunity for their teammates to earn top billing for a night.

As far as the stars go, their talent shone brightly as amateurs, or at the latest (Ramirez), in the low minors. These are first-rounders and well-regarded international signings making good, although sometimes not for the team that drafted them.

And to bring it back here, player development always matters. The draft matters. Organizations that get it right go to the playoffs. Organizations that complement that star-level talent with useful pieces win titles.

Sterling Award Winners by Level: A+ – Dustin Lawley

I’m meandering through the list of Mets Sterling Award Winners. From the system level winners, through AAA to AA and now to advanced-A and 24-year-old 3B/LF Dustin Lawley.

A thirdbaseman and centerfielder in college at West Florida, where he helped the Argonauts win a DII title, Lawley has mostly played left field as a professional.

This has been a busy awards season for the 24-year-old Lawley, who also collected the FSL’s MVP award thanks to a .260/.313/.512 line with 25 homeruns and 92 RBI in 122 games for St. Lucie. The Mets rewarded Lawley with a late-season promotion to AAA Las Vegas for the final week of the regular season and the playoffs.

His Numbers

GABH2B3BHRBBSOSFSACHBPAVGOBPSLG
2013 FSL1224691223352536111603.260.313.512

XBH%SO%BB%HR%BABIPIso
2013 FSL12.321.67.04.9.286.252

Analysis
Lawley hit for real power in 2013, leading the FSL in home runs while playing as old for the FSL. He’s pound-for-pound, one of the strongest Mets farmhands. He used to use an aggressive, full body load to initiate his swing and then would bring his body forward with an aggressive move launching his hands and hips together. I was told that he calmed that move down somewhat in 2013. Both his swing and his approach are aggressive. He attacks the first fastball he sees in counts.

Lawley’s problem is one of time and profile. The player who hit the most home runs in the Florida State League at age-24 and above in the last six years has not yet become a big leaguer. Here’s the illustrious list.
2012 – Kyle Roller (NYY)
2011 – Brad Glenn (TOR)
2010 – Brock Kjeldgaard (MIL)
2009 – Jesus Gonazalez (TOR)
2008 – Brian Dopirak (TOR)
2007 – Jacob Butler (TOR)
2006 – Jay Garthwaite (CIN)

Roller hit .253/.347/.427 with 17 homers in 124 games for the Trenton Thunder in AA in 2013 at age 25.
Glenn hit .264/.334/.459 with 17 homers in 111 games in a repeat of AA and then .246/.329/.508 in 18 games in AAA for the Jays this year.
Kjeldgaard, while repeated AA this year, hit .222/.333/.417 in 134 games with 24 dingers and a 29% strikeout rate.
Gonzalez is out of baseball.
Dopirak reached AAA with the Jays in 2009 and repeated the level in 2010, but after the Astros gave him a shot in 2011 and a combined .286/.321/.465 line in 195 AAA games, he too is out of baseball.
Butler hit .242/.341/.424 in 122 games in AA in 2008 and appears to be out of baseball.
Garthwaite hit .238/.295/.421 in AA in 2007 and is out of baseball.

 

Lawley would be bucking recent history of older players in the FSL a big way  if he developed into a useful big leaguer.

 

Other (Good) Candidates
None. The Mets honored Noah Syndergaard, Jayce Boyd and Kevin Plawecki with other awards. No other St. Lucie player deserved recognition.

Video: Minor League Report – Cory Vaughn

As a 24-year-old, Vaughn hit .267/.346/.424 in 71 games in AA. An elbow strain kept him out of the AA lineup from June 2 through August 6.

I no longer view Vaughn as a potential everyday contributor for the Mets. The move to AA really exposed him. His strikeout rate of 26.5% in AA this year was his highest at any minor league stop, while his walk rate of 8.2% was his lowest. His .156 isolated slugging percentage was his lowest since Savannah and his 6.8% extra-base hit rate exceeded only Savannah (6.7%), and even at that by only one tenth of a percentage point. For reference, the Eastern League had an extra-base hit rate of 7.2%, a strikeout rate of 20.1% and a walk rate of 9%. So, Vaughn hit for below average power, walked at a below average rate and struck out way above AA average. His season line looks better thanks to a .345 batting average on balls in play, his best rate since Savannah, and one he seems unlikely to replicate with consistency against upper level competition.

Again, in 2013, Vaughn displayed extreme platoon splits that have been present in his performance in the last three years. In 2013, he hit .242/.327/.374 in 198 AB against righties and .344/.403/.578 in 64 AB against lefties. In the last three years, through the full-season minor league levels, he has bashed .296/.401/.528 in 409 PA against lefties and .231/.335/.383 in 1047 PA against righties. At this point, it seems extremely unlikely that Vaughn will magically figure out how to hit righties.

Can a Major League team afford to roster a corner outfielder who only hits lefties and does not play centerfield? Sure, straight platoons are possible, still, right? Oakland?

Sterling Award Winners By Level

LV_MonteroI’m going to write at some moderate length about the Mets’ Sterling Award winners at each level of the farm system. In some cases the choice of player intersects with the team’s best prospect, or one of their best prospects, in others it diverges.

The series starts at the top of the farm, where Rafael Montero earned the AAA Las Vegas 51s Sterling Award.

Montero, who will turn 23, has nearly an extremely rapid rise through the Mets’ minor league system. He began 2011 in the Dominican Summer League and has advanced at least two levels in each of his three minor league seasons, including a four-level summer (DSL, GCL, APP, NYP) in 2011. His rise has been extremely brisk

His 2013 in Numbers

ERAG/GSIPHRERHRBBSOHBPWP
13 EL2.4311/1166.675121182107200
13 PCL3.0416/1688.678535304257801
13 Total2.7827/27155.34136564863515001

BB/9SO/9SO/BBHR/9H/9R/9BB%SO%HR%TBF
13 EL1.39.77.20.36.92.83.827.60.8261
13 PCL2.57.93.10.48.63.66.921.51.1363
13 Total2.08.74.30.37.93.25.624.01.0624

Analysis
Statistically, therere are two things that matter to me in there. After running strikeout rates of 29% and 27% in advanced-A and AA, his strikeout rate declined to 21.5% in AAA. Meanwhile, his walk rate which was 2.8% in the SAL in 2012, and 3.8% in AA, climbed to a career-high 6.9% in AAA. Basically, he’s headed back to league average (~19.4% k rate and 9.1% walk rate in the PCL this year) in these two crucial markers.  Two amazing statistical notes: he did not hit a single batter all year, and was charged with just one wild pitch. Those control metrics can get lost in a focus on walks, but the baserunners and extra bases they give an offense should not be ignored.

Montero is a three-pitch guy, fastball, slider and changeup. As a starter, he’s mostly 92-94 mph with his fastball with outstanding control and the ability to get to both sides of the plate. Note that in the Futures’ game over the summer, he averaged 95 mph for seven fastballs. That’s harder than I’ve ever seen him throw as a starter. Subtracting a mile or two for stamina and control takes him to his standard 93 ish range. It’s a little straight, but again, he can spot up with the pitch to make it play.

In the low minors, his second pitch was his changeup. He had good armspeed on it and just enough movement to miss bats. His slider has come along in the last few years from poor to a weapon in ball to a little below big league average when I saw it in spring training (and for two pitches in the futures game). It was short and flat and that more defined movement is progress from the loopier breaking balls of years’ past. He continued to improve the offering all year.

The Mets wanted to see Montero’s progress with his slider and changeup this year. Mets’ VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul dePodesta in April, ““His fastball is very advanced right now, but the secondary pitches need to continue to get better.”

If Montero was not dominant overall in AAA, he was in August, when he put up a 1.40 ERA and a 37/6 K/BB (6.2) ratio in 38.2 innings with a 25.8% strikeout rate and a 4% walk rate. He was big league ready when the Mets shut him down to manage the jump in his innings on a year-over-year basis.

In a world where Matt Harvey is not ready to go on Opening Day 2014, Montero really might have a chance to win a spot in the Mets’ starting rotation out of Spring Training behind Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Dillon Gee. He could be a league-average starter in the near term and more if his slider continues to progress past average to plus.

However, keeping Montero down in the minors for about a month will buy the Mets an extra year of control on his services by postponing the date he is eligible for free agency. The smart money is on the Mets signing an extra veteran or two, both to add depth for the duration of the year, and postpone Montero’s big league debut and service time clock in 2014.

Montero was a very strong choice for his award.

 

Other (Good) Choices:
Picking a single MVP in AAA usually going to be an daunting feat. This year, the Las Vegas 51s used 28 position players and 31 pitchers. That’s pretty standard in AAA. Montero made the third-most starts on the 51s, behind only Matt Fox (20 starts; 4.59 ERA) and Chris Schwinden (28 starts; 5.78 ERA).
Zack Wheeler made 13 starts for Las Vegas with a 3.93 ERA, nearly a full run higher than Montero’s, before his big league promotion. Given that Montero threw 20 more innings than Wheeler, and allowed exactly the same number of both earned and unearned runs, he was better. Wheeler’s reward in 2013 was his big league debut and the beginning of big league money.

Among pitchers, Montero was the clear choice.

Montero faced 363 batters in AAA this year. Only a four position players had that many  plate appearances for the 51s: Eric Campbell, Wilmer Flores, Jamie Hoffman and Zach Lutz. Flores at .321/.357/.531 in 463 PA, would have been a deserving candidate too. Like Wheeler, his reward was big league time and big league money. Better to leave the minor league award to a deserving minor leaguer.

Sterling Award Winners: Ynoa, Plawecki and Dykstra

The Mets named their Sterling Award winners for the organization as a whole and for each affiliate Friday. But are these guys prospects and potential big leaguers or even good big leaguers?

The Mets handed the organizational hardware to 1B Allan Dykstra, C Kevin Plawecki and RHP Gabriel Ynoa. In this case, Plawecki and Ynoa are prospects who matter.

Plawecki
Plawecki Face Swing Follow ThroughThe Mets started the 22-year-old Plawecki, their supplemental first round pick in the 2012 draft in Savannah, where he hit a loud .314/.390/.494 in a pitcher’s park in 65 games to earn a promotion to advanced-A after the Gnats clinched a first half title. By late May, it was clear, to those inside and outside the system, that he was ready to move. The Mets allowed him for finish the first half in Savannah and attend the SAL All-Star Game in Lakewood before departing for advanced-A and the Florida State League. In the FSL he dealt with various minor injuries including a back and usual catcher maladies like balls that hit him in places that hurt. He hit .294/.391/.392 in advanced-A, with his on-base percentage sustained by 14 HBP in 60 contests.

The good in his offensive game: he rarely strikes out, and he has gap power, regularly stinging balls to left-centerfield.

 

His walk rate has slipped at each minor league level from 9.9 in Brooklyn to 8.2 in Savannah to 7.9 in Advanced-A. He’s an aggressive hitter who will attack early count fastballs. This approach, combined with a keen understanding of the strike zone and good bat control keeps his strikeout rate way down – to 10.2% between the two a-ball levels this year. Both his extra-base hit rate (11% -> 6.7%) and his home run rate (2.1% ->0.85) dropped when he was promoted from Savannah to St. Lucie. There’s enough bat here to play catcher in the big leagues, but the way in which his power numbers dropped off at advanced-A is a little concerning.

Plawecki’s defense is fine. He’s an adequate receiver who worked on his game calling and understanding his pitchers. I thought his arm was the weakest part of his game, and he still threw out 31% of opposing runners in the SAL, although that slipped to 27% in the FSL in 45 attempts. He had a tendency to leave throws high and to the first base side of second. When pitchers struggle in the same way, they talk about being too fast with their front side and leaving their arm behind. Plawecki needs to make sure he stays mechanically sound on every throw; he just does not have the kind of natural arm where he can throw out professional runners when he is out of sync.

In 2013, when Major League catchers averaged .245/.310/.388, Plawecki looks like a big leaguer to me. His ceiling right now looks like a solid everyday catcher because I have not seen the in-game power to declare him a star. Even if he’s a low-power guy, his strike zone awareness and bat control will keep him employed in the big leagues. I am concerned however with the decline in his in-game power in 2013 and his very gentle erosion in walk rates as he has moved up the ladder. Double-A will be a big test for him in 2014.

 

Ynoa
Ranked #43 on last Winter’s Top 41 prospect list (yeah, I miscounted), Ynoa had an excellent 2013 at age 20 in the South Atlantic League and has pulled himself comfortably inside the Mets’ Top 20 prospects approaching the 2014 season.

Including the SAL playoffs, the 20-year-old finished with a 2.57 ERA in 150.34 innings over 24 starts with 115 strikeouts and 18 (!) walks. In rate terms that’s a 3% walk rate and a 19.3% strikeout percentage.

He’s a three-pitch guy with fastball, slider and changeup. His fastball hangs around MLB average sitting going 91-95, sitting 92-93 on a good night and 91-93 later in outings. He can work to both sides of the plate. With solid outfield defense patrolling expansive Grayson Stadium behind him, he did well attacking hitters. He has feel for the changeup. Gnats’ manager Luis Rojas thought that Ynoa’s slider made major strides in 2013. One scout who saw Ynoa in the second half told me he saw “three MLB pitches there.” I don’t know if the movement on any of his offerings is above average, but his fastball command is above average.

Ynoa has good size at 6’2″ and he’s filled out a little from his listed 160 lbs. He’s not huge by the standards of modern baseball players, but he’s big enough that his rotation is fairly easy, and he’s been relatively durable at a young age.

Ynoa’s ceiling right now is as a rotation regular. That’s a nice prospect who will start 2014 in advanced-A.

 

Dykstra
I examined Dykstra when he won the Eastern League’s MVP award. The cliff notes version: the 26-year-old hit .274/.436/.503 with 21 homers, 102 walks and 123 strikeouts in 122 games for the Binghamton Mets.  There’s absolutely no reason from a scouting or statistical perspective to think that he is better than Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, both of whom performed at the same level or better, in AA at much younger ages. It’s nice that he hit, and he was more valuable in AA than Eddie Kunz. He’s not part of a winning Mets future.

 

The Call-Up: Wilfredo Tovar

Tovar B-Mets HeadThe Mets added Wilfredo Tovar to the active roster today to take Ruben Tejada’s spot.

Tovar, who turned 22 in August, is a very gifted defender. He’s a little dude, listed at 5’10, 160lbs, with outstanding body control. His reactions are quick and movements agile while his hands are fluid and arm strong enough to make plays from the hole. He’s really, really fun to watch defensively. The errors I saw him make in a-ball were mostly of focus, where he kicked an easy play when he lost focus rather than anything he couldn’t do.

Sure enough, his error totals, admittedly, a wildly imprecise metric for defense, have declined on an annual basis from 17 in 94 games in Savannah in 2011, to 18 in 118 games in A+/AA in 2012 to just nine in 128 games in 2013 in Binghamton. On a rate basis, that’s one error every 5.5 games in 2011, every 6.6 games in 2012 and one every 14.2 games in 2013.

 

At the plate, Tovar hit .263/.323/.340 in 486 plate appearances in AA on a .287 BABIP. His offensive game is al about making contact and drawing a few walks. Despite a career-high four home runs in 2013, he will have as little power as any player on a big league roster. In AA this year, he struck out at just a 10% rate and walked at a 6.8% clip. The Eastern League averaged a 9% walk rate and a 20% strikeout rate. So, compared to his peers, Tovar struck out at half the league average rate, and walked at 75% of the average rate.

Nice shortstop defense, lots of soft contact and a walk rate  that in the big leagues might be 60% of average, will keep Tovar above replacement level right away.

The Mets plan to platoon Tovar with Omar Quintanilla. This should help both players. In AA this year, Tovar hit .292/.361/.375 in 108 PA vs. LHP for a .736 OPS, a 92 point improvement over his work against RHP. Quintanilla has hit .237/.333/.304 against RHP and an anemic .197/.244/.250 in 82 PA vs. LHP in the big leagues this year. Tovar is certainly an improvement over Quintanilla against lefties for now. This week and a half in the big leagues will be a nice introduction for Tovar, who will be around in the next few years whenever the Mets need help at either middle infield position.